R.E.M.

The Strange Intersection of Musicians and Politicians

We have a strange political system here in America, where we have managed to turn elections into multi-year affairs.  A lot of this is the fault of the media and especially 24-hour cable news networks, which have to find something with which to fill their airtime, and incisive policy discussion ain’t gonna cut it.  As a result, we end up with breathless coverage of every single appearance that a “candidate” may make, followed by countless pieces which attempt to either present us with straight-up bullshit or worse, find a unique bullshit angle to discuss the bullshit.  No, I am not a cynic.

One such example is this recent piece published in the New Republic concerning music played at political rallies.  There have been several instances over the years where artists have asked candidates to refrain from playing their music, with several providing cease-and-desist orders and threatening other legal action.  The author of this particular piece pleads with these musicians to stop engaging in this practice, and in the name of bipartisanship allow their music to be played without regard to the candidate’s politics.

To this I say: Fuck no.

The author makes a very simple mistake in his argument, and that is to confuse a candidate’s personal taste with his or her professional work.  Simply put, when music is played at a rally, there is an implicit connection made in the minds of the audience between the artist and the candidate.  This is not unintentional–the music is selected to convey a particular message, so there is definitely a level of forethought to the presentation that exists beyond “the candidate likes this song.”  And just as it is the case in film and television, an artist has the right not to associate his or her work with a candidate.  Few would argue that an artist must comply with a filmmaker’s demand or an advertiser’s wishes to include a particular song, so why would one assume that a politician should be able to use a song without regard to the wishes of the artist?  That is part of the protections offered by copyright, and a musician should certainly be able to defend that right.

Squishy notions of bipartisanship should not play a part in the decision at all; it may be that the vast majority of examples of refusals may be against Republican candidates, but an individual musician is under no obligation to make up for the gap when their politics are entirely diametrical.  Survivor had every right to be pissed when their megahit “Eye of the Tiger” was used as the soundtrack to the recent rally for Kim Davis–they would much rather have their song associated with the triumph of Rocky instead of affirming the beliefs of a bigot.  If it means that more conservative candidates have to lean on country cliches, that says more about the current sad state of the genre than anything else.

The editorial was on the right track when it discussed the intrusion into the personal lives of candidates; Springsteen does come off as a dick in his interactions with Chris Christie.  If the candidate can separate personal and professional lives in meeting with a hero, the artist should be able to do the same.  I have no doubt in the sincerity of various politicians when they profess their love of certain bands–even though Paul Ryan’s budgets make it seem like he has never listened to a word that Rage Against The Machine has said, he would not be alone in ignoring the content of their message.

Oh, and just because Neil Young wrote “Rockin’ in the Free World” as a protest against the policies of President George H.W. Bush, that does not mean Young should allow it to be used by a competitor against Bush’s son.  Everything that Young said about Bush goes ten-fold against Mr. Trump.

Catching Up On The Week (Nov. 7 Edition)

Some #longreads for your weekend after watching a bunch of college football…

Stereogum has an interview with Travis Morrison of The Dismemberment Plan as they release a reissue of their album Change.  It’s a wide-ranging interview, and if nothing else, it’s a great reminder that you should probably listen to more of the D-Plan.

With the highly-anticipated release of their new album Sonic Highways next week, Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters are in high demand.  Of all the possible pieces and interviews you could read this weekend, Alex Petridis’s piece in The Guardian is your best choice, providing the proper context of the man and his band.

The AV Club has a piece discussing the evolution of film soundtracks since the 70’s, and while touchstone 90’s soundtracks like the one from Singles get only a brief mention, it’s still an interesting dissection of film and music trends over the years, if nothing else.

R.E.M.’s Mike Mills is preparing for another live production of Big Star’s Third/Sister Lovers, and he talks to local Athens, Georgia magazine Flagpole about his love of Big Star, baseball, and dislike of streaming services, among other items.

Finally, if you’re in the mood for a project this weekend, might I suggest you take a dive into Captain Beefheart’s fascinating and bewildering discography, with the AV Club’s Primer on the enigmatic musician as your guide?  It may seem a daunting task at first, but this well-written blueprint does an acceptable job of describing the evolution of Van Vliet’s muse, even if I think they malign the “Tragic Band” era a bit too much.

Catching Up On The Week (Sept. 5 Edition)

A few #longreads as you prepare yourself for the fact that you’re going to have to watch Jimmy Fallon next Tuesday…

Speaking of The Replacements, here’s an interview that USA Today conducted with R.E.M.’s Mike Mills talking about one of their musical heroes, Big Star.  That band’s first two albums are getting reissues this week, so for those people that haven’t been able to find a used copy all of these years you are now in luck and now have no reason not to own and love #1 Record and Radio City.  Mills is an expert on the subject, considering he wrote the liner notes for the reissues and is touring as a part of the musical collaboration project that does a live cover of Big Star’s Third/Sister Lovers album.  And if you’re still in need of some convincing about the significance of Big Star, check out this entry of the “Primer” feature of the AV Club covering the career of frontman Alex Chilton.

The Wall Street Journal has an inside look at the collaboration between director David Fincher and composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, providing fascinating insights into the nuts-and-bolts of their unique method of scoring films.  Considering how great their previous collaborations have been (The Social Network and Girl With The Dragon Tattoo are two of the only film scores I listen to with any regularity), you should be eager to hear their work on the upcoming Gone Girl.

The AV Club has a couple of extended features to check out, with the first being a dual interview with Ben Gibbard of Death Cab For Cutie and Travis Morrison of The Dismemberment Plan, and the second being a look at how those “rock and roll cruises” that have become popular in recent years are put together.

And finally, Pitchfork has an Op-Ed that pushes for a return to mono.

Catching Up On The Week (Aug. 22 Edition)

For those of you looking for reading material during the commercial breaks of the Every Simpsons Ever marathon…

Everyone’s looking forward to the new album from The New Pornographers next week, Brill Bruisers, and they’re making the media rounds in preparation.  Be sure to check out their interviews with Consequence of Sound and Pitchfork.

Pitchfork also has this look at the early-years of Kraftwerk, a period in which the band had yet to find the style that would come to define them.

If you’re in the mood for a troll-tastic list, there’s this countdown of the Best Video winners from the MTV VMA’s.  You can tell it’s an awful list with its very first selection: a shitty argument stating that R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” is the worst in the 30 year history of the event.

[Ed. Note: “Sledgehammer” should be number 1, and “Virtual Insanity” should be 1a, with Chris Rock’s parody of the Jamiroquai video at 1b.]

Deadspin looks at the unlikely connection between the heavily-hyped FKA twigs and Air Supply.

AV Club has been doing a big feature about 1994 this week, and that includes a plea to listen to some Gin Blossoms.

And finally, The Guardian talks to several famous lead singers about the anxieties they face when performing.